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Citizenship as Trivial Pursuit

Chris Saliba is one of Webdiary’s active citizen journalists, having contributed numerous articles and book reviews over the past three years. His Webdiary archive is here, and he also has his own website. In this article, Chris subjects the Federal Government’s new citizenship test to critical analysis.

Can you become a better citizen by passing a citizenship test?

This is the argument behind legislation recently passed by parliament on September 10.  Labor voted with the government on the citizenship test bill, but it was opposed by the Greens and the Democrats. Petro Georgiou was the dissenting Liberal.

Last September Family First’s Steve Fielding indicated he would pass the bill. I called his office to see if there had been a change of mind over the past year. An adviser from the senator’s office told me that Family First had voted yes to the bill, and that they had a lot of support for the citizenship test from their constituents.

When I asked if Senator Fielding had read the draft booklet, Becoming an Australian citizen, from which the questions for the test are to be taken, I was told by his adviser that she was not at liberty to say. Further probing received the same response.

Family First will release its official response once they receive the questions to be used in the test from the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship’s office.

The bill will require most permanent residents to successfully complete a citizenship test before applying. The test will cost the applicant $120 (payable as part of the overall application fee for citizenship). Pensioners can get a discounted rate of $40. According Democrats Senator Andrew Bartlett the cost of implementing the test will be some $125 million.

The draft booklet from which the 20 multiple choice questions will be derived has been released for public perusal. Despite the controversy surrounding the test, there’s not that much in the booklet that is particularly contentious.

Rights and responsibilities are laid out, Australian history is briefly explained, key national symbols, emblems and icons are demystified, sporting achievements are highlighted, national holidays are listed (in case anyone should forget) and, most importantly, part three tells aspiring citizens how the country is governed.

Tricky questions like Australia’s indigenous population, and their fate under European settlement, are treated candidly.

‘It is estimated there were some 750,000 Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders in Australia at the start of European settlement in 1788. This population declined dramatically during the 19th and early 20th century due to a number of factors, including conflict with the new settlers and especially the impact of new diseases. At the time of the 2006 Census, Australia’s Indigenous population was about 483,000.’

Elsewhere we are told that Australia has been a remarkably peaceful country, ‘except for small scale battles between settlers and Aboriginal people.’ Sure, people will argue over the scale of the battles. Nevertheless the government doesn’t pretend that these early conflicts never happened.

These matters of indigenous dispossession are set out in unemotional language, eschewing any moral perspective. The almost halving of the Aboriginal population is something that just happened.

Australia’s anti-Asian past is also dealt with. ‘Australians had also become conscious of the need to keep out the people who seemed to threaten their new way of life.’ The racist sentiment, and policy, of early Australia is briefly explained as a need to create social cohesion and keep out ‘foreign outcasts (who) worked for low wages and lowered the dignity of all labour.’

Other aspects of the draft unmistakably show John Howard’s hand. It is clear the Prime Minister is still haunted by the culture wars.

Mateship is made a uniquely Australian experience. ‘A mate can be a spouse, partner, brother, sister, daughter, son or a friend.’

The ANZAC legend gets a big grey box, highlighting its importance.

Sir Donald Bradman is identified as the greatest batsman of all time. ‘He was small and slight but amazingly quick on his feet, playing his shots almost like a machine.’ Never having taken a moment’s interest in cricket, I have no idea what this means.

Despite the dogged insistence that the blokey ‘mateship’ be applied to all human relationships, the draft booklet is overall pretty unremarkable.

If that’s the case, you may ask, what’s everyone’s problem with it? Shouldn’t people who want to become citizens assimilate, learn our values, educate themselves as to how our parliament and institutions work?

Shadow Minister for Immigration, Integration & Citizenship, Tony Burke, doesn’t believe the test is a radical departure from current practice. Nevertheless, he provided an ironic story when delivering a speech to parliament on 21st June this year discussing the bill.

Burke is the member for Watson, named after the third Prime Minister of Australia, John Christian Watson. At that time, there was no such thing as Australian citizenship: you merely had to be a member of the British Empire to enjoy full citizenship rights. Watson, however, was not his real name. It was John Christian Tanck. Having been born in Chile, he said he was born on a ship that was in international waters, allowing him to claim British citizenship even though his father was German.

According to Burke, ‘Had he told the truth about his citizenship and had our system been more watertight—say, in the fashion that it is today—he not only would never have been Prime Minister but also would not have been allowed to vote.’

Why bring this odd story up about an Australian prime minister?  Was he saying it was a bad thing that John Christian Watson ever became prime minister? Was he trying to suggest that the bill could stop some very good people from becoming citizens, maybe even prime minister? Despite the fact that his speech was all about his support for the bill, I suspect the latter was the case. As Petro Georgiou said, if his parents had had to sit the test, they never would have been able to become Australian citizens.

Nor would have my Maltese grandmother. She can barely write her own name. Studying forty pages in English and then being tested on it? Forget it! She came to Australia in search of food for her children after Malta had been devastated by bombing during the Second World War, not to learn how ‘Arthur Streeton flooded his pictures with light’ or that ‘Fred McCubbin depicted that regular nightmare, a child lost in the bush.’

So what’s wrong with the citizenship test if it’s full of nifty info about Australia? (I learnt quite a few things reading it myself.)

Well, in short it’s punitive, it’s illiberal and it’s unfair. It’s also one government’s idea of Australia. How would a future Labor government write the questions for a test? How will it be used by future governments?

It also targets people with poor English, as it is people from non-English backgrounds who are the most likely to take up citizenship. The lowest take up rates for citizenship are those from English speaking countries: the UK, the US and New Zealand. The fact is, people from non-English speaking backgrounds are more committed to Australian citizenship than those from English speaking backgrounds.

The test is baffling in this regard because it seems to be discouraging the very people who most want to become citizens from doing so. It’s counterproductive, to say the least.

If we were to be really fair about the citizenship test, all citizens would be made to pass it before they were allowed to vote. As it stands, someone who’s lucky enough to be born in Australia is free to remain blissfully ignorant of how our parliament works, what happened at Gallipoli, and the importance of Donald Bradman to the national psyche.

Australians can be very lazy about their own democracy. Just recently at the Albert Park by-election in Melbourne, only 69% of the voters turned out. Of those who did turn up to a polling booth, 6.9% cast informal votes. Politicians are no better. The Liberal Party was a complete no-show at the by-election, not even bothering to stand a candidate.

Other examples abound. Remember Peter Garrett’s mysterious disappearance from the electoral rolls for a decade? Pauline Hanson’s autobiography has an illuminating section discussing how many MPs vote on bills without even bothering to find out what they’re about!

Some of our leading media commentators even find our system of compulsory voting ‘repugnant’. Michael Duffy quite candidly wrote about how he hadn’t voted at all until the 2007 NSW state election (he voted for the Greens.) Should this diversity of opinion be reflected in the test?

Face facts, everyone learns about Australia at their own pace. Some become experts, some learn no more than what see broadcast on channel nine’s A Current Affair. All of us will be ignorant on some point of Australian history or culture.

Just ask federal Education Minister Julie Bishop. She was asked last year to name the first European explorers to cross the Blue Mountains (Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson – I just looked it up in the draft booklet.) In response she testily said, ‘We’re going to play this game, are we?’

Well, yes Minister, we are. Why didn’t you vote against it if you think it’s a silly game?

A few years ago I sat down in front of the computer to try and educate myself as to how the preferential voting system works in the Senate. Some twenty minutes later, courtesy of Antony Green’s election site, I could say, ‘Got it!’ Ask me today how it works and I’m totally clueless. I don’t know how long it took me to forget what I’d learnt, but forget it I did. Now I’m back at square one, and too lazy to bother trying to learn it again.

I hope citizens who pass the test have a better memory than I do.

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Yet more integration problems

What is it with these Sudanese refugees?!  Here's another shocking example of their inability to integrate into Australia. 


Great to see you at the launch, David. Hanson;'s headline grabber when she announced she'd stand for the Senate this time was an end to African refugees here. Andrews copied her. de ja vu.

Educate for better citizens

David Curry brings forward a very good point which is never addressed with people coming to live in this country, by whatever means. The problems faced with integrating others into our way of life, are their lack of cultural understanding and their state of being, physically and psychologically. Lack of cultural understanding and confusion is exasperated by the multi cultural approach, without placing parameters for all citizens to adhere to. The psychological side of trauma, PTSD, cultural confusions, a leaning to keeping their old cultural norms and the repercussions they can suffer here, only make things worse.

Anyone coming to this country and before being let loose in the community, needs to be educated in how Australia operates and the reasons why. They should also be told if they can't live here without dropping the cultural aspects of their previous society, which don't fit into our culture, approaches and laws, they should go somewhere else. They should also be screened psychologically and helped to come to terms with what has happened to them. Andrews is right, they are causing trouble, but he's completely wrong as to the reasons and how they should be approached. Irrelevant as to the circumstances, we need people in this country who integrate with us. Educate these people on our shores in Australian life, it's social and cultural approach, it's laws and every other aspect of our lifestyles which they need to know to feel comfortable and accepted.

We already see the problems arising from allowing people to import aspects of their religious, social and psychological cultures into our country that don't fit. To continue approaching immigration and refugees using what is clearly a failed and divisive approach, is just asking for the growing problem we see throughout Europe and other secular countries. Instead of having concentration type camps for refugees and those immigrants who don't understand our ways of life, have them live in education centre for 3 months and teach them to become a part of Australia. Language, cultural and social barriers would slowly disappear, especially if those teaching them have the same background along with Australians. I bet in the end, we'd eliminate most of our problems, ending up with good understanding citizens, not confused or violently lashing out, and forming ghettos of dissent and disquiet.

Social justice for all, a nation that is a good global citizen

In an ideal world, good policy is the outcome of informed political debate. How could one debate policies based on compassion (other than to question the very fact that compassion has guided political decision making)? The political philosopher Hannah Arendt commented perceptively: "The qualities of the heart need darkness and protection against the light of the public to grow and to remain what they are meant to be, innermost motives which are not for public display."

Frequent references to a compassionate nation and the undisputed status of compassion as an Australian value indicate how Australians would like to see themselves. Would it not be more desirable to be part of a nation whose government and whose citizens are committed to striving for social justice for all residents (rather than to ensuring that "those in need" are objects of their compassion)? Would it not be more desirable to be able to identify as citizens of a nation that meets its responsibilities as a global citizen to the full extent of its capacity (rather than of one that is charitable)?

Professor Klaus Neumann works at Swinburne University's Institute for Social Research. This is an edited extract from his inaugural lecture, delivered last night at the State Library of Victoria.

How do Australians see themselves? Do we have a informed political debate to determine policy? It seems to me that more and more of the nation's political decisions are made in  secrecy.

Mr Andrews should apologise

Youth leader Paul Bor Gatwech said said the minister's comments had given others licence to attack Sudanese people. He said an apology from Mr Andrews would help quell community fears that Sudanese-born migrants were being targeted.

Yesterday Mr Andrews was standing by his remarks on Sudanese refugees. A spokeswoman for the minister said: "Funerals are a very emotional time and the minister stands by his comments.

Mr. Andrews opens his mouth and people are hurt.  It is time he was pulled into line. Howard should make him apologise for his unwise comments, which still have not been substantiated.

Where inflammatory comments lead.

Mary J Shepherd has already pointed out the sick irony of Andrews' inflammatory comments about Sudanese refugees coinciding with the murder of 18 year-old Sudanese refugee Liep Gony. 

The murder of a Sudanese refugee - a clear example of their inability to integrate! 

Inflammatory comments like Andrews' have real consequences, as this new story about the bashing of a Sudanese refugee illustrates.  Would this race crime have happened anyway?  Maybe.  Did Andrews' comments do anything to reduce the likelihood of race crime against Sudanese refugees?  No.  Quite the opposite. 

The Howard Government’s ruthlessness in maintaining power is laid bare by the collateral damage they have left behind them.  Refugees with PTSD from years spent needlessly in detention centres?  Couldn’t give a stuff, if it scores a few votes from prejudiced Australia voters.  Sudanese refugees forced to look over their shoulders now that the Government – the Government! – has pegged them as violent gang members?  Who gives a shit, if it wins a marginal seat or two?

Like it's not already hard enough being a black African in a lily-white country like Australia. 

God, what would it be like to have a Government that actually tried to unite, rather than divide, Australians?  A Government that helped, rather than hindered, the integration of refugees?  A Government that discouraged, rather than inflamed, racism?  

What would it be like to have a Government that once again made me feel proud to be an Australian?

After 11 years of Howard I can’t even imagine it anymore.  

David - from your link:

"Sean Grant, for Simpas (the killer), said his client had acted "on the spur of the moment" to defend his friend. The younger man's counsel said his Syrian-born client, who had experienced a "significant culture clash" since coming to Australia, was remorseful.

Hmmm.....this would seem to support the notion that some groups may have more difficulty integrating.

murdered by another immigrant - from Syria

I read that the Sudanese who was recently murdered after Andrews' comments was murdered by a Syrian immigrant. I wonder how many  imagined the Sudanese had been murdered by some white Hansonite redneck who intensively reads the papers and follows the news and who was thus driven to kill by Andrews' remarks - pretty silly.

Minor successes

I have just received an email from diary manager for the member for Greenway, Shelley Alvarez, that my request for comment on the African refugee (as a representative of the Sudanese community in her electorate) has been passed on to Ms Markus and that their office will get back to me as soon as possible. I am pleased: I met Shelley, she is a law student and pleasant personality and I got the impression that she means well and is enthusiastic and not cynical. I think she believes in her candidate. Will keep you posted on whether I actually receive a response, which is what matters, more than having good staff.

Strange, it is Ramadan again and I have been invited to take part as part of an inter-faith effort. Yesterday I found myself walking across a set of logs with a Muslim friend, in a child-like way, except that children are unselfconscious and don't laugh at themselves on the inside. I could have easily developed in to a very different person. So could this country - how the heart aches.

No small problem

Actually, just a point on Dr Renzaho's comment:

"The Howard Government's decision to cut back on African refugees is appalling. It is unspeakable that the Immigration Minister, Kevin Andrews, has used anecdotal reports of problems with Sudanese refugees as justification for refusing African refugees."

Dr Renzaho then makes this startling concession:

"Over the past five years I have been researching the health of African migrants in Australia. In my latest book, which will be published in New York, I report that of all African migrants in Australia, 38 per cent integrate, 12.8 per cent assimilate, 15.1 per cent remain traditional and 34.1 per cent become marginalised. The health consequences of these cultural orientations differ, but maintaining traditional values was shown to have a protective effect against bad health."

34.1 per cent "become marginalised". And that's given that 50 per cent of the sample are mostly white South African.

What does "become marginalised" entail I wonder?

I have a jumper knitted in Earth Colours

John Pratt says:

"Most African migrants come from South Africa and most are white.  Mr Andrew's outburst, should be seen as a distortion of facts, or racism for political purposes."

John, that doesn't alter the fact that not all the 43 national groups you mention will be as easy to accomodate here as some doctor from Nigeria or lawyer from Sarth Effrika, will they?

You quote Dr Andre Renzaho, a senior research fellow within the School of Health and Social Development at Deakin University, saying:

The contribution of African migrants and refugees to Australian multiculturalism has ranged from music and art to social work, entrepreneurship and science

Nobody disputes that. Even if the majority of them where white South Africans.

But it's misleading for him to suggest that that's typically the situtation of the refugees under discussion.

The fact remains, the 19,000 Sudanese migrants you mention will have very different needs, English-language skills and levels of education than senior research fellows in health and social development. Won't they?

If we want to accept them as settlers, we will have to commit ourselves to a major effort in education, integration and vocational training for these people and probably a lot more for decades to come.

There's no point in sweeping that under the carpet.

Simply immersing ourselves in usual cliches about the wonders of multiculturalism and the joys of ethnic diversity and how great African food is is gilding the lilly.

It's a bit like signing Sorry Books and 'Acknowledging the Prior Owners of this Land' before CWA meetings and renaming Elm Street as Goolagong Avenue and that sort of nonsense.

All very easy well until your faced with chronic community wide structural unemployment, social marginalisation and decades of intractable poverty and alienation.

What do you think those riots in Paris were about last year?

That's why both major parties are backing away from the problem. They're likely to have to actually deal with them, otherwise.

If you think they should address the issues confronting Sudanese refugees, then it's important we have a handle on the scale of the project.

I say it will be huge. And will go on for decades.

I also think we should increase our overall refugee intake on humanitarian grounds and make it fairly diverse.

That means a major commitment. Probably hundreds of millions of dollars over several decades.

So, should that be on top of fixing up the problems confronting the Indigenous Australian population as well?

I say 'yes'.

As a nation we have a prior responsibility to our Indigenous population.

But there's no reason why we shouldn't also commit ourselves to settling large numbers of non-English speaking sub-Saharan African people, too.

But let's give both groups - or rather all 44 groups as you point out - what they need to adjust.


African migrant contribution ignored.

The Howard Government's decision to cut back on African refugees is appalling. It is unspeakable that the Immigration Minister, Kevin Andrews, has used anecdotal reports of problems with Sudanese refugees as justification for refusing African refugees.

It is not fair for Mr Andrews to put all African migrants in one basket. There are at least 210,464 African migrants in Australia from 43 countries, census figures show. This includes 104,128 South Africans, who are mainly white. Only 19,049 African migrants are Sudanese. Using drink-driving or rape-related crimes committed by individuals and generalising the pattern across the African migrant population is unacceptable...............

The contribution of African migrants and refugees to Australian multiculturalism has ranged from music and art to social work, entrepreneurship and science. This is evidenced by the growing number of African migrant intellectuals working in the public and private sectors. But our contribution goes unacknowledged.

Most African migrants come from South Africa and most are white.  Mr Andrew's outburst, should be seen as a distortion of facts, or racism for political purposes.

An African immigrants support group is making a formal complaint against the federal government to the Human Rights Commission.

The Chairman of the Federation of African Communities Council, Abeselom Nega, told ABC radio the organisation's lawyers would lodge a complaint of racial discrimination with the human rights commission.

No rush to pick up the can,

Richard Tonkin says

It looks to me, Eliot, that Andrews is saying that the illiteracy problems are caused by the kids having had no education because of being stuck in refugee camps. 

Maybe. But we're not just talking the kids here, are we?

I recall a TV news item a year or two ago about a family of Somali refugees reaching Australia, being housed in a suburban apartment building and left on their own for considerable stretches at a time.

Services were made available to them in their own language, but they got into trouble trying to contact service providers because nobody showed them how to use a telephone. And I mean, the telephone in their flat.

I'm pretty certain the levels of illiteracy we're talking about are more due to the ongoing wars and civil conflicts that have driven these people into refugee camps in the first place.

"The major block for educational improvements in Africa is a lack of materials to decrease illiteracy, which ultimately creates a continuing cycle of poverty, Reul said.

Woods, who volunteered in Zambia with FORGE last summer, said she experienced the refugee plight firsthand.

"They are the forgotten souls of the world," Woods said. "Most of them suffer from hunger, inadequate access to quality education and unemployment. They have truly suffered and deserve so much more than what they're given."

In either case, it's fairly clear why Labor is in no rush to pick up the can, isn't it?

And I have to wonder if mere resettlement will beging to address the issues involved. The questions are:

  • How much should we give?
  • Where should we give it?


The 'too hard' basket

Richard Tonkin says:

Once a muckracker, always a muckraker, no matter how good your speechwriter.

But if those literacy and education levels are correct, then in the absence of a large scale remedial intervention of some sort, you'd be really creating a rod for your backs by settling large numbers of people in that condition.

This is why Labor is backing away from criticising Andrews on this issue, as I suggested below.

Imagine if the Federal government, of either persuasion, announced it was spending a couple of hundred million setting up special schools for sub-Saharan and other African refugees from, where? Sudan? Somalia? The Congo? Liberia?

To do what? To teach English as a second language? Even though the refugees were not even literate in their own languages? Nor numerate?

Which would mean sourcing teachers who were literate in those languages whatever they happened to be. To then bring educational levels in, what, both languages? Up to some level which would facilitate their integration to Australia.

And there'd be how many new settlers every year?

Oh what average age? And then after all that, give them vocational training?

All the while Aboriginal Australians are already living in third world conditions without much prospect of their lot improving in the short term, either!

And then do we do that for every refugee community?

I mean, it would be a mighty proud nation that pulled off a humanitarian trick like that, wouldn't it?

But what would the political fall-out be?

Why They Can't Read

It looks to me, Eliot, that Andrews is saying that the illiteracy problems are caused by the kids having had no education because of being stuck in refugee camps.  In light of this, to infer that the literacy problem is grounds to leave these people overseas in refugee camps is  a dangerous course of action for an immigration minister to take.  Especially one that seems to have problems diffentiating between fact and hearsay.

Personally, as you may have gathered, I wouldn't trust the bugger as far as I could kick him.  I'm still waiting for him to blame Osama.  Given that OBL lived in Sudan for a while, the association in Andrews mind must be like an oncoming train-wreck.

However, the political fallout from this line of reasoning wouldn't go in favour of the Liberals at the moment, methinks. 

Laws grills Andrews

The best coverage of this has come from John Laws.


Wouldn't it be better, if you're concerned about the problems that they experience when they come here, spend a bit of money on helping them rather than...


Well that's what we're doing. We spend about $250 million a year on settlement services. And in the May Budget, because of the concerns we have about this, we allocated a further $210 million specifically to address these issues.


Well, if you'd dumped that citizenship thing you could spend another $100 million, couldn't you?

Classic. Andrews does make one significant remark:

We're also doing other things for example from next year, under the Humanitarian Programme, whereas in the past individuals could sponsor people to come to Australia, we've found that individuals who are struggling to adjust to Australia are not necessary the best people or the best group, if I can put it that way, to be sponsoring other humanitarian entrants to Australia.  So we're shifting the focus there to community groups and organisations as sponsors.

I think this is thoughtful and it is in line with what I was arguing before about those who are better integrated assisting newer humanitarian entrants. It will be interesting to see how this is administered but the idea is meaningful.

The apple cart

Mike Lyvers says

I suppose you missed The Insiders yesterday, where the Labor spokesman on immigration expressed full unqualified agreement with Andrews' policy on African refugee intake and refused to buy into the notion that it reflected "racism" or "dog whistling."

That's really interesting, isn't it? There's at least two possible interpretations of Labor's action:

  • The Cynical Stance: They know there's no votes to be had in opposing Andrews and therefore only political risk associated with criticising him on this, so they say nothing much.
  • The Informed Stance: They've seen evidence more or less justifying Andrews's standpoint, so they don't oppose it because it will only backfire on them.

My guess is it's a bit of both.

If Federal labor adopts the same kind of 'holier than thou' approach of Queensland premier, Anne Bligh, that would win them kudos with a 'concerned minority' and no one else, shifting the centre of their bell curve a bit towards the margins. Not what they want.

(They did the same thing by more or less backing the pulp mill in Tasmania).

If they ignore the underlying problems associated with the refugee issue - whatever they are - then they're not going to get the support of the Hansonite working class. Which must be bigger than we think if they're actually worried about it.

Also, citing the Cabramatta precedent - poorly educated refugees dumped in large numbers and ignored because they were politically embarassing and so left to fester as a massive and intractable ghetto of disadvantage and crime for generations to come - they may want to head off future problems. Thanks Gough, by the way.

The 'concerned minority' generally represent nobody but their own opinions and can usually be bought off cheaply by giving their socially useless kids lucrative arts funding grants at a later date.

Beyond the melting pot

David Curry says:

There were crime problems in Cabramatta, no doubt – still are.  These issues should be discussed honestly and openly, without knee-jerk, send-em-all-home sentiments.

Absolutely. I think part of the problem is that people try to straitjacket complex community interactions like race and ethnic relations into pat formulae like 'assimilation' and 'multi-culturalism'.

I think the Melting Pot has to allow for the fact that both processes are inevitable, not exclusive alternatives.

The Vietnamese Australian family you mentioned probably typify the right balance. They are doubtless happy with their Vietnamese heritage and identity, but they are trying hard to make a new life for themselves by active involvement in a broader Australian society that is anything but Vietnamese.

As for their kids? Who knows.

I have a Chinese Australian mate who recently stunned her dad when he asked: "So, do you see yourself as more Australian or more Chinese?"

Her answer was:

"Oh, I'm Australian alright. But part of me will always love France, too."

That's what happens if you give them those fancy ballet lessons, I suppose. There are more ways to diversity than harping on cultural origin.

Sixth Sense

There is an astonishing passage in Helen keller's autobiography where she talks of her trip to Niagra falls and being awed by it, feeling the "Air vibrate and the Earth tremble." It made me realise how a dominant cultural group can so easily be oblivious to the experience of others different from them. We talk of five senses but really there are at least six and I don't mean telepathy. We have the ability to sense motion, balance and equilibrium through fluid in the inner ear and other senses, called "vestibular" components.

Sensing vibrations in the air could be associated with the sense of touch (which itself breaks down in to different components, temperature, pressure, pain/pleasure) but the feeling of the Earth trembling is a different kind of sense entirely. The deaf can sense vibrations and variations in vibrations, giving a loose analogy to hearing (think how it feels to pluck an electric guitar string with the amp off) but there is more than that. Keller also writes of her pleasure being in the ocean for the first time. This is an experience involving both touch and motion.

So much of the best of our lives involve motion: think how it feels to ride a horse, to play sports, to ski or toboggan, to go around in a ferriswheel or rollercoaster, to dance, to roll around on the grass, to make love, to drive a car, to take off in an aeroplane or a helicopter. There are simpler sensations involved in riding and escalator or elevator, or simply climbing up a set of stairs. It feels different to be on top of a tall building or a mountain than it does to be on the ground, or, deep in an underground cave, relating to the effect of air pressure on our senses.

Then there are the unique and profound experiences of motion that only few in human history have felt: the phenomenon of weightlessness, of walking on the moon, of being blown down by a nuclear bomb, of being swept away by a Tsunami, of being in an earthquake or hurricane, of being a Kamikaze pilot. There are so many different variations of our sense of motion and balance, and so many ways in which it can play a crucial role in our experience, that it is extraordinary how unappreciated it is. It is certainly something we notice when it is faulty, with the disorientation brought about by vertigo.

The remarkable feature of Keller's life was not just that she developed a rich love of experience despite her condition, but that she also became an active and critical member of society. She was extremely well-read and became a socialist. She became a citizen. Some suggest that we should abandon the term "disabled" as a negative word, when in truth those who have specific limitations can usually, by some other means, achieve their goals.

These thoughts make me question the veracity of my support for abortion rights in certain circumstances. There may be times when an individual feels that because a child has a medical condition that he or she will have a low quality of life, but this is presumptuous. Often the deaf or the blind will voice a preference for being as they are and far be it for the rest of us to question this.

Illiteracy, lack of education and a lack of functional language skills within a foreign culture are all disabling features. Like being deaf, blind or mute they are primarily communication problems, limiting an individual's capacity to function effectively in society. Being born with such a condition is no different to being born in a country or a social class without opportunities for education and personal development: it is not your fault, and, it is the responsibility of the dominant group to equalise your experience as much as practicable.


As a paralegal I was once asked to look in to potential legal actions available against a political group, Australia First, who were spreading information about Sudanese in Tamworth. A government minister (I don't recall which one, or know to which party he/she belonged, nor would I disclose such) had requested that my supervisor research such options, and, because the immediate need of a busy community legal centre is to deal with clients, during consultation time that job fell to me. I have since moved on and have no idea how it panned out, but the issue led me to develop strong views on the value of anti-vilification laws and the centrality of conciliation to the process, and the importance of approaching such measures in good faith. Such issues are primarily a breakdown in relationships: an adversarial approach is not capable of providing a resolution.

The HRC also considered the possibility of legal action over the same leaflets. Predictably Australia First representatives acted like martyrs and accused the HRC of "Gestapo" tactics. I actually think Pauline Hanson is a lot more nuanced and constructive than fringe groups like this, with their persecution complexes. I am happy for Hanson to babysit these people but I am not happy for the immigration minister to do the same. She has a minor role; He has a major one.

There were specific incidents of violence involving Sudanese in Tamworth but this is not enough to start painting them all with the same brush. Culture as distinct from race might create different attitudes to criminality but this is a bit of a stretch in this case.

What I am most missive for in the Federal government is a little bit of inspiration. It is hard for a lot of groups to properly integrate but we go out of our way to assist them, because it is the right thing to do. It would be easier not to provide disability parking, bathrooms and ramps for those in wheelchairs but we make an effort. It would be easier not to publish books in Braille for the blind, not to teach the deaf to speak or to read lips, to provide subtitles on film and television or foreign language services to those who need them. It would be easier not to provide schools for the intellectually disabled. It would be easier not to provide violence and trauma counselling, mental health care, social work. Yet we do and we must.

Think of Helen Keller, both deaf and blind, yet who was taught to speak and to read lips, not by sight but by feeling the movements of another's mouth and lips with her hands. Human beings are capable of extraordinary adaptability, especially with the right kind of support. If you don't believe in human potential, if you are not able to take inspiration from the success stories in our community, then what place do you really have in politics?

Assistant Minister for Immigration and Citizenship

Liberal MP Teresa Gambaro and assistant to the immigration minister criticises Andrews. She is also taking a statesmanlike approach to the issue and I would support her as the natural replacement to the immigration minister, with the member for Greenway as assistant. Should the Liberal party win the coming election will provide an excuse to remove him and replace him with someone of at least general competence. Recall that Andrews was a reject on industrial relations and is now repeating his poor salesmanship in another area.

""He could have put it differently," she told the Herald. "It is something I would have been mindful about. We have to support our humanitarian settlement program. They are no different to migrants of the past. They want a job, a future for their children and their children to be educated."

Ms Gambaro, who oversees the settlement program, said she believed Mr Andrews was only trying to state the difficulties in assisting African refugees, who come from war-torn countries and are often young and illiterate. "They need an enormous amount of assistance," she said. "The settlement has not been smooth across the board, but we have had some successes as well. It all takes time. There are pockets of concern and we need to provide opportunities for those people, but the Africans and Sudanese are making a good contribution."

That the member for Petrie so flatly criticises the minister that she is meant to be assisting proves how laughable the man's authority really is. I doubt Howard has confidence in him, but is merely exercising his usual permissiveness towards incompetence in order to consolidate loyalty towards him personally.

As it happens I like Pauline Hanson and am pleased that she has taken an interest in these issues. I think she is attempting to highlight problems that others may not have the courage to raise (except for ultra-right minor parties), and, seems to be doing at least some kind of research in to it. Unfortunately this kind of conduct is too low a standard for someone in the immigration port-folio who needs to take a broader and more holistic look.

Balancing out the quotas after a heavy spike in African refugees seems worthwhile, if an equivalent need can be found in other areas, but it depends on the reasons. I don't agree with Tim Costello that it should be the UNHCR who is the ultimate arbiter of priorities, the government should take in a range of sources, including other human rights groups and the US state department. They should also listen to the intelligence community who can perhaps give the best, but admittedly secret, information on world events. There was a suggestion in one of the news articles that a move away from intake in the Middle East was a result of September 11 and national security concerns. If this is true then a realignment towards the Middle East is a good thing.

There is a strong lobby for Africa, especially in many Christian groups.  The success of this lobby group is to be commended but it might distract from efforts in our own region which we may be particularly well placed to assist. Certainly my own church was heavily focused on Africa (I recall pressing them on this point, but also using the lingua franca of the church and suggesting that they should serve where they are called to serve). We have a strong immigration program from Asia and as such we would be well placed to accept refugees from the region. There are also significant and similar problems around HIV/AIDs in Oceania, especially Papua New Guinea, as in Africa.

Britain and other parts of Europe have particular interest in Africa, partly due to the colonial connection, which Australia does not have. It may be that the globalisation and rationalisation of aid organisations means that priorities which are not of particular interest to our region are nevertheless imposed upon us as a matter of organisational economy.

Nevertheless I find the Sudanese a pleasant people. My first exposure to them was through my university, where I would from time to time talk with Sudanese students. It was this most of all that prompted me to defend the acceptance of international students, amidst complaints that it was lowering standards. They have startlingly beautiful skin tones and a certain domestic, gentle demeanour. There is a strong population where some of my relatives live in Blacktown and as such I am able to observe them from time to time. It has never once occurred to me that they might be dangerous, or, any more dangerous than any other group of people. If anything they have a calming effect on me. They seem to live simpler lives but this is not a criticism, simply a reality given the places they have come from.

Pauline Hanson and Kevin Andrews play the race card

Pauline Hanson has backed Kevin Andrews' views on African migrants - saying he was right to be concerned about crime and other issues.

The former One Nation icon and current Queensland Senate candidate says the government needs to protect the "Australian way of life''.

Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews has cut the African migrant intake, saying there appears to be specific problems with them fitting in to Australian society.......

Anna Bligh, whose own electorate of South Brisbane has a strong Sudanese community, earlier today said Mr Andrews' views were disturbing.

"It has been a long time since I have heard such a pure form of racism out of the mouth of any Australian politician," she said.

"When it comes from the immigration minister it is particularly disturbing."

Crime rates low

She said police statistics showed very low levels of crime among Sudanese people in southern Queensland.

"To hear this sort of attack on these people is frankly something that belongs to the deep south of America in the 1950s," she said.

Pauline and Kevin want to drag Australia back to the dark ages. We must show the world that Australia is not racist and we really do believe in the value of a fair go for all. This election is the time to turn our backs on the likes of Hanson and Andrews. To think Kevin Andrews is the man testing citizens for "Australian values". I don't know about you but I want nothing to do with the values of Pauline Hanson or Kevin Andrews.

Concerns about integration

The decision to cut the African component so quickly and dramatically, due to concerns about integration, means that the accumulated need for family reunion will far exceed the places available. As a consequence, many families will remain fractured and devastated forever. The tragic irony is that this will become the greatest impediment to successful integration, just as it would for any of us if we were caught in a similar situation.

Virtually all refugees have endured horrific and traumatic experiences. Many will have suffered torture, trauma and harrowing loss that are compounded by family separation, long periods in refugee camps and the need to feel safe.

How a receiving community embraces people in such situations directly influences their ability to recover and re-establish new lives with dignity. In the case of refugees, this also stands as a repudiation of their persecutors and provides some relief to the pain they hoped would scar their victims forever. The manner in which we do this also says a great deal about the sort of country we want to be. Unfortunately, the impact of the public debate this week on our African clients has done little to promote this type of positive environment and a great deal to cause them further trauma. They deserve better than this from all of us.

Paris Aristotle is director of the Victorian Foundation for the Survivors of Torture that recently produced the handbook of the United Nations refugee agency on refugee resettlement and integration.

Mr Andrews forgets the cost to families when he decides to cut our intake of  African  refugees. 

Mr Andrews's judgment has been questioned over his intervention in the Dr Haneef affair.

His lacklustre performance in the industrial relations portfolio caused Prime Minister John Howard to shift him sidewards to immigration in a reshuffle in January.

It is time for Howard to sack this failed minister before he can wreck any more lives. 

Dont' blame the victims, Mr Andrews.

This week the lost souls of the Sudanese crisis became the latest addition to the Government's rabbit hat. Just because the conflict in Sudan's Darfur is nearing its sixth year — killing half a million people and displacing just as many — it doesn't mean Australia should single out those fleeing for special treatment.

That's not to say that we don't have a proud history of dishing out special treatment to minorities who don't fit in to our way of life. We're experts in the field. Just ask our indigenous population. They've been getting special treatment for 200 years. Look at where it's got them.

And let's not forget the reception Chinese people got during the gold rush and the boon for sociological harmony post war European migration was, or the way we threw our arms open to the Vietnamese by calling them boat people in the 1970s and the tremendous time our friends from the Middle East have been having in recent years.

But make no mistake. If you're an African fleeing a crisis of monumental proportions, please don't go thinking Australia is the lucky country. Just ask those who came here before you from those other international hot spots of Iraq and Burma.

Have you ever been to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Mr Andrews? Or the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre? Do you know what they do there? Or, more importantly, why they do what they do?

These services are there, funded by donation and run largely by volunteers and lawyers earning a pittance, to do what you don't do for newly settled refugees and people on temporary protection visas. They help them do precisely what you would like them to do. Fit in............

Instead of sheeting the blame to the victim, Mr Andrews, perhaps you should widen your networks a little. It might alter the tone of the anecdotes you're hearing.

Tracee Hutchison in The Age highlights the Howard Governments tendency to blame the victim. 

Mike - we were both wrong about Bolt

Mike - you thought Andrew Bolt was making your argument, so I made the same assumption and put the boot in.  Sorry.  Turns out he was helping make my argument!  

They're hard figures to refute, aren't they?   

This Government may have just have played the race card one too many times.  You can only cry wolf so many times before you get caught out. 

data? a probable truth and shamefully so

Hi Dave, I wonder what the real statistics are. Any one who deals with research knows how easy it is to pick and choose data points to make one's argument.

Where are the raw statistics? And I didn't know there was racial stereotyping on every "pickup" by police. Does that include all ethnicities here? And do they divide WASP and WASC also further?

Also there is a difference between those picked up by police and those convicted of serious felonies. What are those statistics?

If one is going to have a discussion based upon facts then let's get the facts straight and source the data.

We have three families in our local church from Sudan. Each is very pleasant to talk with – naturally, why not? And I have never enquired about their personal story, such would from my understanding, be a very traumatic thing to do if someone has been through hell and back – look at our Vietnam vets or any victim of constant violence. Two of the boys have severe behavioural problems. I could say that abut two of the boys at my child’s local school too, whose parent is a prostitute. Point? Children are our future. More funds to identify and helps all from all areas and backgrounds.

Three of the group apparently have HIV, I do not have any proof of this, it is just what one of the women told me and they are grateful to be on treatment. What are the stats for HIV and Hep B and C?

Perhaps there are risks of taking peoples from areas with 30% HIV rate, but how kind for them to have proper treatment at last. There are "problems with the men". ... aherrr … what, exactly, was not said. What are the problems? There has been a number of high profile multiple perpetrator rapes, is this what they mean? Is it a lack of understanding of female behaviour here and misinterpretation or something else? If that is what is meant then it is time it was addressed in ALL the community. There are plenty of rapes still happening throughout the community and plenty of paedophile activity. There are illnesses already here and intensive regimes for them.

Or is it about some fear of numbers, of developing groups that are ethnically separate rather than "intermingling" over the generations or whatever immigrants are supposed to do. Or are people just afraid of what is different – and that jet black skin is certainly different to look at! I saw my first black skinned person in North America as an adult and was stunned. After a while one forgets there is any difference and notices nothing. Is it just we are not used to "black skin" colour in our usual visual perception? How rarely most of us see an aboriginal Australian from the Centre, with that jet black colour. How shocking appearance can be to people not used to it, especially it there are negative stereotypes such as one might think of in America in the deep south with all that poverty (what is really the problem is the poverty and its roots, non?). I remember when I went to parts of North Asia: the locals kept coming and staring at me because I was white skinned and had white blonde hair. Some even pulled some out when they sat behind me – ouch but a smile.  

Difference is often perceived as threat. And how different can one look to the average Sydneysider than black African? It will take time and people getting to know each other and getting used to that difference. I think it is a sad reflection upon our history that we, in the articulate (though poor typing) middle upwards classes, are not used to black skinned Australians living next door, holidaying with, having as colleagues and friends for our kids and financial equals as group.  

When skin colour has no statistical relevance to socioeconomic statistics nor health nor education level nor violent crime level (white skin beats hands down black skin corporate crime!) then we will know that we have really succeeded as a civilised world. Imagine that, globally, let alone just here or the USA.

Unfortunately, domestic and international policies seem so much against that happening. This makes the claims of the likes of Pauline Hansen and Mr Andrews into a probable truth – that is really shameful if so. What should the response to it be?



There are different Africas to be dealt with here. I wonder how much of this is purely ideological. Andrews was very careful to single out the "horn of Africa" in his criticisms which is in the North East. These nations are dominated by Islam (See Infoplease.com). Ayaan Hirsi Ali herself came from Somalia, before escaping to Holland. Compare that with Zimbabwe and South Africa which are more traditional/Christian and have low levels of Islam. Our migration program in its totality has a greater emphasis on Sub-Saharan Africa (in recent years more than North Africa and the middle East combined), with half of which in skilled migration. This fits in with the general ideological hue of the right-wing if you want to see it that way.

On the other hand I don't want to be too simplistic: A more profound difference is in literacy, with most of the countries in the horn hovering around 50%, compared to much higher levels in the South. The South, obviously, still has its problems but there is perhaps a difference in degree. I can well imagine that problems associated with education may make integration into a country like Australia a far more difficult process. Yet, the fact that something is hard isn't a reason to abandon it, for heaven's sake. There is also a question of doing what is right.

I think Ariane Rummery from the UNHCR made the most sensible comment on the issue, stating that refugees should be accepted on humanitarian grounds rather than their ability to integrate:

"Any shift away from Africa in Australia's resettlement quota is not being promoted by UNHCR," said a spokeswoman for the Canberra office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Ariane Rummery. "Quotas should be responsive to the protection needs of refugees that UNHCR identifies each year."

This is not an example of an individual "bereft of arguments" but of someone with a particular, coherent argument. Otherwise we start getting in to a position of simply approaching the problem from the point-of-view of what is easiest - a state of being which is seductive to governments of all stripes, and which should be resisted. The problem of refugee resettlement is difficult and vexed, and it should remain such in the minds of those who administer it. If the decisions start to become easy - and capacity to integrate is a very easy method to go by - then something is wrong. The minister is trying to carve out an arena in which he no longer has to think carefully about priorities and with no more dark nights of the soul.

The system should be responsive to events and updated constantly. Doing this from year to year is far too leisurely an approach.

Apartheid in South Africa developed from a breakdown in law and order and I am not sure that the minister's policy amounts to much more than Apartheid on an international scale. Essentially he has abandoned assimilation as a policy here and is trying to solve the issue by keeping people apart. This is not so much about "integration" as a loss of faith in in it.

The greatest African irony

All through the TAMPA and kids overboard and the drowning of the 353 people on SIEVX we were told that the Iraqis in particular were lying queue jumpers who were not in danger from Saddam Hussein and that we have to accept thousands more Africans which was why we had to punish the Iraqis for daring to come here for help.

Now that we have these thousands of new Africans we are whinging that they are violent and they have to be kept out so that we can take thousands more Iraqis - because we made the Iraqi refugees.

Lunacy writ large by the incompetent klown Kevin. And what started the claims of violence? An 18 year old child was murdered by three white people including a 17 year old white girl from Adelaide.

So if you come to Australia as a refugee and are beaten to death this means you do not fit in.


Last night's Australian Story about the Leahy family in New Guinea was moving to me. Having been born in PNG the place forms part of a kind of personal creation myth in my life and so I pay particular attention to the region. My paternal grandfather also fought there in WWII. It is a country which is a signatory to the refugee convention and this is both good and important.

Louise Markus's husband is from Papua New Guinea. I find this heartening. I am going to promote her relentlessly because I believe in her.

From her maiden speech:

"My husband, Jim, was born in Papua New Guinea, an extraordinary place of beauty and rugged individuality. I love the people of that nation. I see a potential in them that is largely untapped—men and women filled with dreams and desires. To live with people within another culture where I can add value, to be accepted, has added a richness to my life and to my children’s lives that I cannot quantify and for which I am truly grateful. I love spending time in Papua New Guinea. I am very pleased to see Australia’s continued strong connection and support for that nation. I also wish to acknowledge Jim’s family for their love, support and prayers."

On multiculturalism:

"More than 30 per cent of the people living in my electorate were born overseas, and without their valuable achievements and perspectives Greenway would be greatly diminished. I am truly blessed to be able to count many of these people as my friends and supporters, particularly in the Filipino, Sikh, Maltese, Sudanese, Greek, Turkish and Egyptian communities."

On refugees:

"There are also challenges for the emerging ethnic communities who have sought refuge from war torn nations here in Australia. Many members of these communities have been deeply traumatised by their experiences. Services and facilities need to be provided to ease their transition into our society."

It is the finest speech I have ever heard by an Australian politician, without qualification. It is odd how the maiden speech that we remember is from Pauline Hanson.

From 3 March 2006:

"I was very concerned to hear some of the comments made by Council on Wednesday night’s meeting. I was especially concerned to hear Councillor Attala suggest that new arrivals from Sudan would be “better off in a refugee camp than in Blacktown.” This kind of extreme rhetoric does nothing to help the community and demonstrates a clear lack of understanding about the situation at hand.

I am also concerned that the Council is seeking to use this situation to score political points. It is one thing to raise concerns but the comments from Council on Wednesday indicate that Councillors did not actually bring any facts to the Chamber and so an informed debate did not occur. The comments are also disappointing because they clearly imply that the Migrant Resource Centre makes little difference. The reality of the situation is that the MRC led by the dedicated Irene Ross makes a critical contribution to all of the new Australians in our area. I would have thought the Council would be able to recognise their valuable community services which assist us all greatly. The Federal Government recognises this and that’s why the MRC have received record funding over the past twelve months."

Surely the immigration minister's policy mirrors the kind of sentiment that Markus has previously criticised and lobbied against. It is very important that resources are continued to be funded.

According to Stratton and McCann refugees can wait longer than ten years in UNHCR camps. Surely the essential issue in the refugee debate here is capacity, especially in housing. It is not acceptable to leave people in temporary housing for extended periods and it is no wonder we have people attempting to subvert the "Queue".

I used to volunteer in a legal centre in a public housing suburb in Western Sydney and I saw the way DOH applications had a backlog and how the system dealt in priorities. As a nation we are not overflowing with housing, whether public or private, and, we are not even servicing the needs of our own population with any haste.

Capacity is not merely logistic, it is also a condition of the heart. There is a limit to the compassion of the public can bear, to the accommodations that they are willing to make. The way to increase this kind of capacity is to address the issues brought about by the humanitarian immigration program.

The Africa within

According to the ABS we take a good portion of our skilled migration program from sub-saharan Africa. If the motivation were simply racist I would expect a cut in this area too. Whatever the reason it is more subtle than racism. I wonder why the preference for Southern Africa - probably something to do with Howard's distaste for Mugabe in Zimbabwe.

I would hope perhaps we could make an effort to increase our skilled migration program from Northern Africa, on the theory that those in work will be better able to integrate and therefore provide the infrastructure and communities necessary to facilitate our humanitarian program in that area. There needs to be a support base for all the people of the world in Australia, should a humanitarian need arise, so that they can come here and the transition from their country to here be as easy as possible. If a particular ethnic community is heavily dysfunctional it becomes difficult to administer the refugee program. The answer is not to restrict immigration (a typical non-solution by the immigration minister) but to put in place policies that minimise any issues associated with such communities.

Sudanese (and Iraqi) intake spiked up in recent years, obviously, because of events in those countries creating an urgent need. Because such problems are, in a sense, new, the infrastructure won't necessarily be there to cope with it.

Generally speaking I am inclined to the view that our refugee intake should be directed towards our own region, but this needs to be balanced with questions of priority. It is a rather grim business determining these priorities: a little too much like playing God. A quota seems the least likely mechansim to provide a solution to such a complex problem.

I was talking about integration of Sudanese refugees not long ago on this thread  and pointed out that the Attorney-General's department has already put in place measures to deal with crime in such communities. I also want to repeat my confidence in the member for Greenway for taking a statesmanlike stance on the integration of Sudanese refugees in to her electorate. Note the way she tried to burst the bubble on the "Sudanese crime" thing long before the current minister decided to re-float it. The problem is not the Liberal party but rather the immigration minister, with the approval (at least for the moment) of the Prime Minister.

From Louise Markus MP:

"Refugees have endured hardships unimaginable to most of us on their journey to Australia. The conflict in Sudan, particularly in the western Darfur region, is one of the most horrific and bloody in recent memory. Tens of thousands of people have lost their homes and loved ones, and have been displaced into neighbouring countries.

It is for this reason that Australia opens the door to those in most desperate need of resettlement through our refugee and humanitarian program. These people simply have no home to return to.

Having opened the door to these vulnerable people, it is vital to ensure that they are given the resources and skills they need to become full and active participants in our community. Considerable resources are already devoted to this goal but we must always ask ourselves the question, ‘Can we do more?’

I think we can.

In recent weeks, I have raised this issue personally with the Immigration Minister, Amanda Vanstone, and her Parliamentary Secretary, Andrew Robb. In that context I have had the opportunity to air some of the concerns that I am hearing from the local community, including:

-The Federal Government can do more to assist refugees to become job-ready and get them not just into full-time time work, but the right kind of full-time work.

- The Federal Government needs to ensure that refugees are receiving adequate levels of English language tuition.

- The Federal Government should examine the social impact refugee resettlement is having on the local community.

- Refugees need the right access to local medical practitioners.

- African children in our local schools must receive adequate support.

- Finally the Government should assess what more can be done to address any law and order issues associated with recently-arrived refugees."

Here she seems to admit to particular problems, but her solution is optimistic rather than nihilistic. It is devoted to policy initiatives rather than non-policies like race quotas. What is the end result? We take fewer refugees from a particular place and render them unto their fate. Viewed as an international problem nothing is solved, it simply passes it on to someone else to deal with the issues, and the real possibility that no-one else will. What purpose does it serve to restrict Sudanese immigration until 2008? Will the problems suddenly cease to exist next year?

When has the immigration minister ever said: we can do more? His policy amounts to doing less. I suspect it may even be simply for cost-cutting reasons, thinking there may be a less policy-intensive way to administer our refugee program without affecting the raw figures.

It is not a particularly useful process to accuse the government of racism, as the current debates are again showing.They have long experience in this kind of thing and know that they can master public sentiment towards their point-of-view. They baited the racism allegation: it is as obvious as it is tedious. It is unsurprising that Andrews delayed releasing the evidence for his claims until after a great many groups had denied his claims. This was strategic. It is designed to distract from policy debates and as such a confession of incompetence.

Melting pot

Dave Curry says:

"By splashing a series of incidents involving Sudanese refugees all over the national media and publicly announcing a stop to refugee intake from Sudan.  By making no attempt to educate the public about the sort of difficulties a traumatised, uneducated Sudanese refugee might face when transplanted from a stinking refugee camp to suburban Melbourne."

I agree with you Dave. But implicit in what your saying is the inference that there will indeed be acculturation and adjustment problems for any community hosting large numbers of "traumatised, uneducated" refugees.

And I'm not entirely sure merely "educating the public" about these matters will make that much difference.

In the 1970s, Fairfield and Cabramatta especially became refugee settlements for very large numbers of Vietnamese refugees.

And to be frank, the problems associated with that were real, serious and continue to this day.

This is not a particularly polite or trendy thing to say. And I recall getting into lots of arguments with people who used to live in the Cabramatta area and had a hard time adjusting to the massive changes that affected their neighbourhood.

None of them live there any more. And Cabramatta went from being a typical, Federation style garden suburb to something entirely different in a few years.

I'm not for a moment suggesting that we should send home our Vietnamese Australian refugee population. In fact, I'm in favour of increasing our refugee intake.

But I think it would make sense to diversify it, and encourage a wide distribution of refugees within Australia.

In an ideal world, it shouldn't make any difference where anyone lives. But experience teaches a different story, doesn't it?

What's the harm in having refugees from a range of backgrounds?

Diggers fought for a fair go for all.

In a moving service at the Buttes New British cemetery in Zonnebeke, West Flanders, the five caskets were interred with full military honours.

Australia's Governor-General, Major General Michael Jeffery, praised the diggers, saying they had been fighting to preserve a way of life based on the Australian adage of a fair-go for all.

Our Governor General reminds us of the reason so many Australian lives have been sacrificed in war. A fair go for all.  Howard and Andrews have forgotten this when they attack the weak and minorities in our community.

That fewer Australians are willing to go along with the Howard government’s racist lies reflects the fact that protest and resistance does change public opinion. The spontaneous uprisings of Indigenous people in Redfern and Palm Island in 2004, in response to killings by police, put the issue on the agenda. Likewise, while in 2001 only a minority of Australians supported the rights of refugees, this minority’s willingness to raise their voices in the street, together with the protests of refugees locked up in the immigration jails, has led to a majority now being opposed to the mandatory detention of refugees.

One of the greatest puzzles of John Howard's leadership has been his treatment of minority groups, in particular, Indigenous Australians, refugees, asylum seekers and Muslims.

His friends avoid calling him a racist; many of his detractors are less circumspect. In a radical departure from the practice of the last several decades, John Howard has used race to differentiate himself from the opposition parties. No other recent prime minister has been willing to do this.

A range of mechanisms which undermine the legitimacy of NGOs have been apparent under the Howard Government. All are consistent with public choice theory. While each mechanism by itself may not be a threat to democratic process and freedom of speech, it is in the totality of the overall picture and in the coherent nature of the attacks, consistent with public choice theory, that there is the possibility of a threat to democracy as we have known it. De-funding is the best-known, but it is only one component in a suite of mechanisms.

Labor backs restricting Sudanese migrant intake

According to today's papers, Labor backs Andrews' migrant intakes and restrictions on particular groups. So I guess Rudd is also playing the "race card," right?


M Lvyers According to today's papers, Labor backs Andrews' migrant intakes and restrictions on particular groups. So I guess Rudd is also playing the "race card," right?

Sounds like bullshit. This is one of M Lvyers’ more piebald untruths, straight out of the sewage pipe from the PM’s private office. He could try digesting this, if he’s up to it

Although in that sinister world, The Age don’t count. There’s always a better skew in the DengWarlock press. Although not la Bolt, apparently

... An interesting paragraph in The Age piece read: Mr Burke would not be drawn on whether he believed Mr Andrews was deliberately playing the race card in the lead-up to the election. “I'm not going to attempt to psychoanalyse Kevin Andrews. All I will say is there is no logical way to reconcile the reasons given at the time for the decision [a reeking assertion that all was OK in Africa, and we were to accept more Iraqis] and what he said in the last 24 hours [ie, they’re all dis-integrating crims].” Kinda makes the M Lvyers’ lie tip over, don’t it? Quite right on the psychoanalysis though. That’s a job for a psychiatric panel assisting HREOC, or attending Andrews in prison, where he will undoubtedly share a huge cell, reeking of Airfix™ and altar boy rape, and infested with the kind of opus dei creeps who bashed the Sudanese bloke to death. Probably on Andrews’ express command, after the go-ahead from Kirribilli. They have people everywhere.

Woodforde, OAM, ex-altar boy

Margo: Hi Peter. Hope to see you at the Canberra launch of NHJ2 on Monday. Let me know if you need a ride.

To Mr. "Sounds Like Bullshit"

I suppose you missed The Insiders yesterday, where the Labor spokesman on immigration expressed full unqualified agreement with Andrews' policy on African refugee intake and refused to buy into the notion that it reflected "racism" or "dog whistling." Try digesting that, Woodford OAM or whatever you call yourself these days.

For the record, I have never been to the PM's office, never met the PM, and have no connection whatsoever with him.

Howard play the race card? Never!!

From The Age today:  

 While refusing to release the full advice or provide any statistics, Mr Andrews said a summary of the material included:

  • Concerns about race-based gangs.
  • Reports of altercations between Africans at nightclubs.
  • Conflict and assaults between some African families.
  • Reports of a developing trend of young African males drinking alcohol in parks at night.
  • African community organisations arguing about who received favoured treatment.

"The critics who shout racism are bereft of real arguments," Mr Andrews said. "Australia has the right to ensure those who come here are integrating into a socially cohesive community."

African think tank chairman Dr Berhan Ahmed said Mr Andrews was "putting fuel on the fire of the race issue" by releasing unsubstantiated claims.

Compare the Howard Government’s dog whistles with the considered comments of Senior Constable Joey Herrech of the Dandenong Police Station, here

The nature of dog whistle politics is that the statements appear, on the surface, to be reasonable. Of course they’re just dealing with a matter of public concern in a responsible way. 

Sure.  By splashing a series of incidents involving Sudanese refugees all over the national media and publicly announcing a stop to refugee intake from Sudan.  By making no attempt to educate the public about the sort of difficulties a traumatised, uneducated Sudanese refugee might face when transplanted from a stinking refugee camp to suburban Melbourne.  By avoiding any discussion of how more support might be given to these refugees to help them integrate, and making no mention of the Hobbesian nightmare in Sudan that they've come from.  

Prime Minister John Howard yesterday said it was "contemptible" to suggest the Government was playing the race card, after this week's furore over Mr Andrews linking the drastic cut in African refugees to the failure of the Sudanese to integrate.

Far be it from the Howard Government to whip up anger in the community towards a particular racial or ethnic group for political gain.

Children overboard, anyone?

I don’t know whether Howard and Andrews (and Ruddock and Reith) are racists, but they’ve shamelessly exploited racist sentiment in the Australian community for years now. They disgust me to the pit of my stomach.

Nonsense, David, it is not racism at all.

It is fear of crime that they are exploiting, not racism. You sound rather naive with the following statement:

"By making no attempt to educate the public about the sort of difficulties a traumatised, uneducated Sudanese refugee might face when transplanted from a stinking refugee camp to suburban Melbourne.  By avoiding any discussion of how more support might be given to these refugees to help them integrate, and making no mention of the Hobbesian nightmare in Sudan that they've come from."

Do you really think "educating the public" will make anyone feel better about becoming a victim of criminal violence? Do you think it is even remotely acceptable for anyone to bring their "Hobbesian nightmare" here? Of course many of them are traumatised and need help. They may have even been traumatised by some of those who are committing crimes in Australia. My point is that I really don't see this as a race issue at all. Those who reflexively cry "racism!" at the drop of a hat are the ones using the "race card" and are the real racists in the sense that race is all they can see.

The bottom line is: is it true or not? Are Sudanese refugees more prone to crime, on average, than other migrant groups? If it is not true, then you may have a point. Otherwise no.

Sudanese refugees and crime

Mike, here is a quote from Victorian Police Commissioner Christine Nixon, included in a Canberra Times article by Irfan Yusuf (I don't have the link):

“when you look at the numbers we’re talking about, the young Sudanese who actually come into custody or dealt with us, only really may up one per cent of the people we deal with … they’re not, in any sense, represented more than the proportion of them in the population”

Contrast this with Kevin Andrews’ loose comments about “race-based gangs” and “altercations between African groups in nightclubs”.  As if African refugees would not hang around together.  Like other “groups” don’t get into fights in nightclubs. 

Mike – I feel for all victims of crime.  I have friends and family who have been the victims of random violence and of sexual assault.  By white Australians, incidentally.  I’d be no less angry if the perpetrators were Sudanese. 

I think you misunderstand my comments.  I’m sure there are problems with integration for some Sudanese refugees.  I’m sure some of them are involved in crime.  I personally know Afghani refugees who have struggled – after all their traumas and four years in Australian detention centres – to fit into Australian society.  It’s part of the universal refugee experience, I would expect. 

That Sudanese refugees have particularly difficult problems is hardly surprising, given their experiences and particular situation. 

And it’s not racist, in my opinion, to draw attention to these problems.  My problem is with the dog whistle stuff – appealing to the baser instincts of a narrow portion of the population - which is about how you draw attention to the problems. 

Has Andrews made any attempt to put the incidents he refers to (without, crucially, any statistical backup) in context, or to stress that criminal tendencies should not be attributed to Sudanese refugees as a whole?  No, quite the opposite.  That is what disgusts me – this Government deliberately inflames people’s fears about these people, which has real consequences for them in their everyday lives. 

It’s one thing to put derogatory parentheses around a racial or ethnic group, but negative and misleading generalisations about them are dangerous, especially when pronounced by a Government.  Like Muslims and their proclivity for sacrificing children. 

Howard has form on this stuff.  Remember about 18 months ago, when Howard claimed Muslims posed greater challenges to Australia’s social cohesion than any other migrant group?  Further back, in 1988, Howard called for a reduction in immigration from Indochina for similar reasons. 

Think about it.  It’s an election campaign.  The Government constantly recalibrates its refugee intake – but does it doesn’t normally hold a press conference to announce the changes? 

I agree with Eliot: diversity in immigration and refugee intakes is a good thing.  And Governments have a responsibility to monitor these things.  There were crime problems in Cabramatta, no doubt – still are.  These issues should be discussed honestly and openly, without knee-jerk, send-em-all-home sentiments. 

There are of course two sides to all these things.  When I was a young teenager my own family supported a Vietnamese refugee couple who are probably the hardest working people I have ever met.  They had to start over, from scratch.  He was an engineer, she was a teacher, but their lack of English skills and recognized qualifications meant they had to do the most menial of jobs for years.  They eventually moved to Sydney, started a business, and now their four kids are grown up and are fine members of the Australian community. 

How hard would it have been for Andrews to mention – even in passing – that many Sudanese refugees have successfully integrated into Australian society?

David re: Nixon quote

David, if the Sudanese account for 1% of crimes as in your quote, then they really are vastly overrepresented in the crime statistics as a proportion of their population here. For they constitute only a tiny fraction of 1% of the Australian population. So Nixon's concluding statement is mathematically incorrect.

Do The Math

Mike Lyvers, here is some data reported by Andrew Bolt [extract]:
Third: you might also think that the Sudanese are incredibly violent.

False again. Yes, there is a particular problem with young Sudanese men. But do the maths. Victoria has some 18,000 Sudanese in a population of five million and 327 of them were arrested last year by police, who picked up 155,439 other Victorians as well.

That means more than 3 per cent of Victorians were arrested last year (assuming no one was arrested twice), but only 1.8 per cent of Sudanese. That doesn't spell crime chaos to me, or give me reason to cross the street when I see a black man coming. I'd be far more wary of a West Coast footballer.

Border Protection

While you were digging up the Laws transcript, Solomon, I was over on the department's site, looking for stuff on Sudan immigration problems.  Having not found anything useful after a skim, was heading back to Andrews' media page.  I loved the "you are now leaving the department's website" disclaimer that pops up as you leave.  Perhaps it's to make the reader aware that they're crossing the border between fact and fiction?

The interview you raise makes Andrews appear almost noble. He's obviously been practicing since his chat with Fran Kelly on Friday


Now coming to the matter you asked about, I get regular reports from my department, provided information through various community groups and ethnic organisations from other sources, police and otherwise, and there's been a number of matters which are continually being brought to my attention about things like the establishment of race-based gangs, altercations between various groups, disagreement between various community organisations, tensions within families, and a range of other things.

And then on top of that, we know when you look at the data, that this is a group that have special or unique challenges, beyond those of other groups of refugees, for example, the average schooling age is about four, compared to seven just three or four years ago, a lot more, 40 per cent, have spent time in refugee camps, compared to just 15 per cent in 2002/03, the reading ability is quite low…

 Once a muckracker, always a muckraker, no matter how good your speechwriter.

Sudanese Statistics

Unless, Mike, the proportion of Sudanese in Dandenong or in Victoria is substantially higher than for the general population.  I don't know.  I'm only going on Nixon's quote.  I'm happy for her to be corrected if you can prove otherwise. 

Sudanese refugees Andrews should be happy with.

Filemon Asel and Joseph Arou will be the first Sudanese Deacons to be ordained to the Anglican priesthood in Victoria on Saturday, and they have endured much to get to this point.

Filemon and Joseph, who will be ordained at St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral in Melbourne on Saturday 28 July at 2pm, have come from war torn areas of Sudan. These two young men have suffered a great deal for their faith and have built church communities within the Anglican Church in Melbourne, Filemon at Preston, and Joseph at Box Hill. The Southern Sudanese refugees in Melbourne have brought a great vitality to many parishes.

Two Sudanese refugees who have settled well into our society. It is always wrong to judge people by race or colour. Every refugee decision should be based on the individual. Howard and Andrews have shown they have no compassion. It is time to reject their racist policies.

Howard and Andrews deep in the darkness of racial politics.

African think tank chairman Dr Berhan Ahmed said Mr Andrews was "putting fuel on the fire of the race issue" by releasing unsubstantiated claims.

"If he's got any data to substantiate his argument, let him put it on the table," he said.

"There used to be continuous fighting in the King Street nightclubs before the Africans came."

Akoch Manheim, of the Lost Boys Association, an advocacy group for Sudanese youth, said the dossier was misleading. He asked who had advised Mr Andrews in the report.

"The minister has a high profile, and what he says, many people who have never been in contact with Sudanese people will think that this is true," he said.

"For example, he is saying there is a nightclub crisis, but most Sudanese people don't even go to nightclubs."

Reverend David Pargeter, from the Uniting Church's Synod of Victoria and Tasmania, said: "When a Government minister, on the eve of an election, connects violent action with one particular cultural group, we know we have reached deeply into the darkness of racial politics."

As Howard and his mates struggle to find a "rabbit" to keep their claws on the wheels of power. It is a disgrace that they pick on the weakest in our society. UNHCR says refugees should be accepted on need.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) said refugees should be accepted based on their need for protection, not their ability to integrate.

"UNHCR is not aware of any empirical evidence that suggests there are integration difficulties associated with Sudanese compared with any other comparatively newly arrived group of refugees," a UNHCR spokeswoman told AAP.

"Indeed, we note previous comments by the Victorian police ... that Sudanese people are under-represented in crime statistics.

Pigment of your imagination

John Pratt says:

"Now he [Kevin Andrews] is moving back to the White Australia policy by reducing the number of African Refugees allowed into Australia."

The number of refugees is staying exactly the same, with an increased intake from Asia and the Middle East off-setting the decrease from Africa.

So, unless you consider Burmese and Cambodians to be "white", I'm not really sure what the basis is for your claim.

Citizenship test a device for exclusion.

Both the Australian and American (citizen) tests have been criticised as devices for exclusion, as fig leaves disguising the fact that these liberal democracies are not as pluralist as they like to think they are. In each case, that can be argued. But a comparison between the two leaves little doubt about which is the more exclusionary. Despite the paranoid hue American politics has acquired since 9/11, the US test still reflects a society that is confident of the bond forged by shared allegiance to democratic institutions, and which is willing to live with differences beyond that.

Confidence and living with difference are not, however, terms that spring to mind when you listen to Kevin Andrews talking about Becoming an Australian Citizen.

Kevin Andrews is showing his racist colours,  the Citizenship test was not enough for him. Now he is moving back to the White Australia policy by reducing the number of African Refugees allowed into Australia. Is it because the election is so close, and he is pandering to  One Nation supporters.

racist, racist, racist

Racist, racist, racist. That word has been so abused that it has lost nearly all its former, very specific meaning. Now it is just an epithet meaning "asshole." So you think Andrews is an asshole. Maybe he is. But the problem with particular groups of African refugees is that they bring high crime rates with them, according to statistics provided by Andrew Bolt (yes, I know, another asshole right?) on his site. If true, that is clearly undesirable. Or is importing violent crime OK in the name of political correctness?

I'd rather be politically incorrect than a victim of criminal violence.

No evidence for African refugee high crime rate.

Mike Lyvers, the following may interest you:

Refugee groups accused the Government of playing the race card before an election as Premier John Brumby said African arrivals were welcome in Victoria.........Police commissioner Christine Nixon said Sudanese immigrants were not over-represented in crime figures.

There is no evidence of African Refugees being overly represented in Victorian crime rates. In fact the Police Commissioner says they are not over represented. So where did you or Andrew Bolt get this so-called evidence? 

Andrew Bolt as reliable source of facts

Andrew Bolt also argues that the stolen generation is a myth - and seems likely to remain one of the last climate change skeptics for some time.

A spokesman for the Victorian Police was on Radio National this morning (can't find transcript yet) asserting that Africans were under-represented in crime statistics. 

Now, should we believe a police representative or Andrew Bolt on this issue? 

Tough call. 

Easy call.

Actually Bolt cited Senior Detective Dave Logan, from the transit police:

Ninety-nine per cent of our assaults, robberies and armed robberies involve the Sudanese.

Easy call.

No evidence, just hearsay

Mike, we need evidence, not hear say. Surely the Police Commissioner has the statistics at her figure tips. Even if it was higher, more support would have been the answer.

The truth about crime rates in Victoria:

The 2006-07 Victoria Police crime statistics show crime rates in the following offence categories have declined since last year:

  • Homicide - down by 12.7 per cent per 100,000;
  • Crime against property - down by 1 per cent per 100,000;
  • Aggravated burglary - down by 4.8 per cent per 100,000; and
  • Theft of motor vehicle - down by 9.5 per cent per 100,000

The truth is that this is a racist beat up to help the Howard government. Crime rates are falling. If anyone believes that the Sudanese are responsible for ninety percent of violent crime where is the evidence?

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